Studying for Step 2 and Making the Transition to Clinicals

Jordan Wohl
Published on May 8, 2019. Updated on Sep 24, 2020.

Studying for USMLE Step 2 or COMLEX Level 2 is similar, but can be fairly different than studying for USMLE Step 1 or COMLEX Level. Both require countless dedication and self-discipline. However, with Step 2/Level 2, those days of being able to sit in the library all day are reserved just for the weekends now, at the most. The 3rd year of medical school is a major year of transition. A transition where you go from sitting in the classroom to seeing real live patients. With this new responsibility, there are a few changes on how a person can study.

Getting Creative With Your Study Schedule

During the third year, your classroom is now the office, clinic, or hospital. With that said, study time becomes more limited compared to your second year. It’s all about picking times that work for you. There’s going to be days where you are exhausted and want to go home to sleep after a 12 hour day at the hospital. There’s also going to be days when you get released early in the day too. As a third year now, it’s all about using the time management skills you cultivated first and second year to your advantage.

If there is nothing happening on the floor at that moment, use this time to do some studying such as watching a video or completing some flashcards. Not only will it help you lighten the load of studying for the rest of the day, it will also keep you sharp for when the inevitable onslaught of questions occurs from residents or attendings.

Use Clinicals to Your Advantage

I used this skill on my obstetrics (OB) rotation to my advantage. With OB, many times we had free time waiting for deliveries to begin. I used this time to watch videos on things that were relevant to what we saw during clinicals that day as well as what was relevant for the test. If we saw a patient with possible preeclampsia, I would watch a video, like this one at Osmosis, or read a source about how to diagnose and treat it. This way, when discussing the case with residents or attendings later that day, you can contribute to the discussion or at least understand the reasoning over the management of the case. Further, now that I read up about a topic before heading home, I have also lightened the amount of studying I have to do when I get home.

Another way to study for Step 2/Level 2 during the year is to use each clerkship as a “first pass” of the material through whatever book(s) that you are using for studying. Go through the resources you are going to use for your overall studying for the second part of your boards and use this for clerkships too. If you remember doing your first or second pass of First Aid for Step 1/Level 1, this strategy can still apply to your Step 2/Level 2 studying. With this strategy, you can use spaced repetition of reading the same material over again and going back to review later too, which will help it stick later on while studying for Step 2/ Level 2.

Lastly, stick with a schedule that works for you. My goal every day was to try to watch at least one Osmosis or Online Med Ed video and take notes on it. Some days I was able to do more and additionally complete questions too, and other days I barely got through one video. But I was able to say that I accomplished my goal each day of studying piece by piece. Some days I would forgo notes and watch a video while doing cardio at the gym.

It’s a fun transition between pre-clinicals to clinicals, but it can be a tricky one with balancing all of it. Make sure to take time for yourself when you can too. It is always easier said than done and I sometimes struggle with it too. But if you need a night off because you are exhausted and did a lot on the rotation today, take it! You deserve it. Good luck with studying for Step 2!

About Jordan

Jordan is a 3rd year medical student at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine. He is originally from Cherry Hill, New Jersey and planning on going into Emergency Medicine. In Jordan’s free time, he enjoys hiking, working out, photography and going out to eat.


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